Bernie Sanders defends Ilhan Omar, says we must not 'equate anti-Semitism' with 'legitimate criticism' of Israel's 'right-wing' government

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Wednesday defended Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota against accusations of anti-Semitism.
  • Comments Omar has made in recent weeks about US policy toward Israel have led to allegations of anti-Semitism from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
  • In a statement on Wednesday, Sanders said, “We must not…equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday came to the defence of Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota as she faces accusations of anti-Semitism from congressional colleagues on both sides of the aisle over comments she’s made regarding US policy toward Israel.

In a statement, the independent senator from Vermont said, “Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world. We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel.”

“Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace,” Sanders added. “What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong.”


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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez laid into Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership after they condemned Ilhan Omar’s Israel comments

Sanders is Jewish and his father was an immigrant from Poland whose lost many family members during the Holocaust. The senator, who’s running for president in 2020, has been critical of the Israeli government in the past.

When he ran for president in 2016, Sanders gained significant attention after a debate against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in which he condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for what the senator characterised as “disproportionate” force in Gaza during a 2014 conflict with Hamas.

In early February, Omar faced allegations of anti-Semitism after suggesting Republicans in Congress support Israel due to money from pro-Israel lobbying groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Subsequently, she faced criticism from Democrats and Republicans who said Omar was feeding into anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money.

Following the condemnation from members of both parties, Omar apologised for the remarks.

More recently, Omar more recently faced criticism for comments made while discussing US policy toward Israel in a recent town hall. At the time, she said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

Following this incident, Omar has been accused of playing into anti-Semitic stereotypes about American Jews and dual loyalty to Israel.


Read more:
House postpones anti-Semitism resolution to add language about Islamophobia after pressure from Ocasio-Cortez and progressive groups

Following Omar’s latest comments, senior House Democrats have pushed for a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. Though the resolution does not explicitly mention Omar, it is widely viewed as a rebuke of the Minnesota lawmaker.

But following pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic party as well as left-wing groups, Democrats postponed a vote on the resolution to add language condemning other types of bigotry, such as Islamophobia.

Omar is Muslim and came to the US as a refugee from Somalia when she was a child.

In public statements during the controversy, the Minnesota lawmaker has rejected the notion she’s anti-Semitic.

“I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attack,” Omar tweeted on Sunday.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday said she did not believe Omar’s recent comments were “intentionally” anti-Semitic.

President Donald Trump, who continues to face criticism for blaming “many sides” for deadly neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, has also weighed in.

“It is shameful that House Democrats won’t take a stronger stand against Anti-Semitism in their conference,” Trump said in a Wednesday tweet. “Anti-Semitism has fuelled atrocities throughout history and it’s inconceivable they will not act to condemn it!”

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